An Estonian Official Wants to Turn a Former Prison Into a Museum of Communist Crime

The harrowing abandoned prison could become a memorial to Red Terror.

Patarei prison is a sinister complex in Tallinn, Estonia, that was used by various political regimes, including the former Soviet Union, before shuttering in 2002. What to do with the abandoned building has become the source of much public discussion. But this past weekend, Estonia’s Minister of Justice, Urmas Reinsalu, made an impassioned case to turn the former prison into an international museum and research center dedicated to the crimes of communism. Reinsalu said he had “strong support” from representatives of eight EU member states.

Largely left largely unrestored and unmaintained, the seaside prison, which sprawls across 10 acres in the Estonian capital, is a relic of the region’s dark and painful past. Its harrowing halls, which have now been closed to the public, include a prison hospital with surgical tools in tact, as well as rows of tattered bunk beds and peeling paint.

On the other side of the harbor, Estonia recently cut the ribbon on a huge memorial to the victims of communism, who were murdered or died because of inhumane prison conditions, including at Patarei. The impressive monument, which was unveiled on the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, lists the names of more than 22,000 people.


Officials from Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary met in the Estonia capital over the weekend to demonstrate unity and discuss plans to reconcile with their shared communist past. The losses Estonia suffered during World War II and the subsequent occupation are estimated at a fifth of its population, which is just over one million.

Other ideas for the Patarei complex that have been floated include converting it into an arts academy, a hotel with a yacht harbor, and offices and apartments. Several other museum concepts have been pitched as well, including an Estonian war museum, a museum of occupations, a prison museum, and a Cold War museum.

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